Black History Month

Fulfilling a need: Wilson County Negro Library, 1943-1964.

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More great Black History Month programming from Wilson County Public Library! On 15 February 2020, local history librarian Tammy Medlin will present a history of the Wilson County Negro Library, founded by African-American women in the early 1940s. No registration necessary; please come learn more about this vital community institution.

Rev. Clark congratulates The Age.

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New York Age, 9 February 1935.

In 1935, Rev. Thomas G. Clark sent a congratulatory letter to mark the New York Age’s “50 years of untrammeled service to the race, nation and the world.” In it, he revealed details of his early educational struggles, and the epiphany to which Edward A. Johnson’s A School History of the Negro Race in America from 1619 to 1890 brought him. [Johnson, born enslaved in Wake County in 1860, was educated at Atlanta University and wrote A School History at the urging of a school superintendent. The book was the first by an African-American author to be approved for use in North Carolina’s public schools. (Sidenote: I won’t rest until I secure a copy.)]

 

Langston Hughes speaks for Negro History Week.

Today marks the 118th anniversary of the birth of poet, playwright and social activist Langston Hughes. To my astonishment, shortly after he celebrated his birthday in 1949, Hughes came to Wilson to deliver a lecture in the auditorium of Darden High School. The event marked a celebration of National Negro History Week, and its proceeds went to support the Wilson Negro Library‘s bookmobile fund.

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Wilson Daily Times, 8 February 1949.

Wilson Daily Times, 9 February 1949.

Hat tip to Wilson County local historian Tammy Medlin for leading me to this story.

Coda.

At the beginning of Black History Month, the New York Times published an essay, “Everyday Excellence,” in its Style Section. Though the piece centers the black folk we see in the now, everyday, in an edited form Rembert Browne’s text sets out the raison d’être for Black Wide-Awake and stands as a convenient coda to February:

“As a child, I learned during our shortest month about Martin and Malcolm, Harriet and Sojourner. At home and in school they told of Benjamin Banneker’s almanacs, Madam C.J. Walker’s hair products and subsequent wealth, George Washington Carver’s peanuts, Crispus Attucks’s heroism in dying first, and even what Dr. Ben Carson did with those conjoined twins.

“Black History Month has taken these mortals from heroes to idols, out of both pride and desperation. The resulting highlight reel of black triumph is pure historiography, a particular formulation of the story of black America. Its chronology supports the misleading narrative that a few exceptional people and their acts are the de facto history of black America, rendering the stories of the ordinary as invisible.

“If your life is filled with these ordinary black people, however, you understand what the true meaning of Black History Month is. What truly pushes black America forward are all the people in between, all the people you don’t see if you don’t know where to look, or simply don’t care. But if these circles are part of your life — either through inheritance, or by showing up and seeking them out — your entire world opens up. Every day is overwhelmingly Black History Month, because it’s all around you. …”

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Back to our regularly scheduled programming, i.e. Black History all year long.

Please come if you can, no. 1.

Goldsboro’s not Wilson, but it’s right down the road, and many of Wilson’s African-American families have roots in antebellum Wayne County. On 6 February 2018, I’ll be giving a talk about Wayne County’s free communities of color as part of the Wayne County Public Library’s Black History Month observation. I welcome your support!